Chapter 155: The Benefit Concert
The Wine Master broke in to laughter. He lifted his right hand and, with a small motion, a shimmering crystal glass appeared on the table before Lan Jue. It looked handmade, of sophisticated and rare craftsmanship.
The Wine Master lifted the bottle set before him. He tipped it over the glass until two fingers of wine sloshed within.
Lan Jue watched the display, his eyes bright. “So is this my reward for capitulating?”
Lan Jue lifted the glass and swirled its contents, watching as the rich red liquid swung around in a clockwise direction. He dropped his hand and took a wiff. “Very fine. I quite like the Leoville Las Cases. Certainly worthy of being called the best of the Bordeaux Super Seconds.”
“What year, do you recon,” the Wine Master tested quietly.
Lan Jue took a tentative sip, sloshing the fluid around his mouth. The pungent wine rolled around, covering the sides and tip of his tongue, down to the base before slipping down his throat.
Lan Jue hesitated, and frowned. “The Leoville is among the more balanced Bordeaux wines across the years. They’re all quite good, so it comes down to which ones are exquisite, and which ones aren’t quite as wonderful. But this one seems… boring, bland. Thin aftertaste. I can’t place a specific year, but this must absolutely have been produced in the seventies of the former era. The seventies were the worst years for Bordeaux. Only the 1970 and 1975 bottles were acceptable. This wine isn’t one of those. So one of the other eight years, then. You really are stingy! This is definitely among the lowest quality Leoville there are. Even compared to a village wine.”
The Wine Master clapped his hands in approval. “Good. Your analysis was very good. But you’re here drinking my wine, so what is there to loathe? This particular bottle is from 1972. It hadn’t been stored well, and as such is on the verge of going bad. I figured if we didn’t drink it now, we never would. Older wines have a specific taste all their own, you can take larger mouthfuls.”
Lan Jue smiled. “Drinking is certainly better than not drinking. So other than this business with the West’s Paragons, where are we on your search for the product of the Three Masters?”
“Wait a few days after the Castle’s visit. I’m still gathering information about it. We’re waiting for the Clairvoyant to come up with something as well. There likely will be some trouble in whole matter, but success will mean quite the benefit. I really do hope the quality and skill of these masters will have been retained after all these years.”
Lan Jue nodded. “I have my doubts, truth be told. They’re not masters, but the product of. As for us what problem could we encounter? They’re wine makers, aren’t they? Not powerful Adepts.”
“We’ve never met them, who’s to say what they’re like? In the end I trust the Clairvoyant’s visions. Like recently with you, his visions claimed the situation would be more threatening than dangerous. But he knows the state of things, and how they can change. A person’s destiny can change as time marches inexorably forward. In the end all we can do is face it with energy and positivity.”
The Wine Master paused then, and snorted gently. “There isn’t very much left in the realm of ‘curious’ that holds my attention any longer. However this, looking for the Masters and their progeny, has always been a dream of mine. Whenever I think about it, think about chasing after this dream, I get more excited than I’ve felt for a long time. And the closer we get, the more it seems the masters might even still be with us.”
“What?” Lan Jue shot to his feet, nearly overturning the crystal glass in front of him.
“That’s impossible. Nearly all of the Three Masters were born in the twentieth century of the Former Era. The nineteen thirties, more or less. It’s been over two hundred years, almost three. Our genetic technology now is ages ahead of where they were, and even now a person only lives to about a hundred and fifty. How could there possibly still be a Master among us?”
The Wine Master shrugged. “At the moment it’s a guess, but that doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility. Let me ask, how long does a Paragon live?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “I should ask you. I haven’t reached that level. How would I know?”
“In reality it’s different for each Paragon, in accordance with their own situations,” the Wine Master said, in answer to his own question. “But I can tell you that if a Paragon truly cherished their life, they could employ their own protomorphic powers to delay the problems that come with old age. It’s not impossible.”
Lan Jue looked at him with a curious glint in his eye. “So you’re saying if these masters were Paragons, then…”
“We can’t ignore the possibility. However, this is all still in the realm of conjecture. More information is needed to uncover the truth. At least it’s got your attention, no?”
Lan Jue chortled. “I was a mercenary. A spirit of adventure comes with the territory. I almost can’t wait to get started.”
The Wine Master nodded. “If everything from here on out goes smoothly, we could embark in a month and a half. As for this matter with you and the West’s Adepts, don’t worry. The Avenue will make sure you aren’t given the short end of the proverbial stick. If they’re truly interested in burying the hatchet, they’ll need to show sufficient sincerity.”
Lan Jue sniffed a laugh, draining his glass in one gulp. “Then I’ll leave the issue to you. Let me have some more wine – two fingers only equates to a few mouthfuls.”
The Wine Master’s face betrayed a hint of disgruntled resignation. “I don’t know why I never make no persona non grata here like I always threaten.”
Beep beep beep! Lan Jue’s communicator cut the conversation short.
Come for dinner tonight. Short and simple, but it brought a smile to Lan Jue’s face.
The Win Master’s voice intruded. “The Gourmet?”
Lan Jue looked up at him. “How’d you know?”
The old man laughed. “Of course because he invited me as well. There’s a few hours yet before dark, let’s finish this glass and you can head back to your store.” As he spoke he poured once again in to Lan Jue’s glass, though only a single finger this time.
Lan Jue types in a response while the Wine Master spoke.
Would it be alright if I invite two others?
Lan Jue drained his glass with a sigh. “Older alcohol has a distinct bitterness. It’s a shame the 1970’s Bordeaux were such bad years.”
The Wine Master glowered at him. “Right, off you go.”
Lan Jue chortled 1, set his glass down and made his exit.
Lan Jue paused as he exited the Gothic Winery and pondered how he should spend the next hours. Eventually he sauntered from his shop pushing the old antique bicycle given to him by the Keeper. He hadn’t been to the school in days, he thought, it might be worth a trip over.
Drinking the Wine Master’s Leoville had awakened the glutton in him, though it had given him an idea as to what to teach next time. Alcohol was also a fine item! Wine culture was deep and complicated, be it Western reds, Eastern whites or Scottish whiskey, even brandy. He liked them all, and had a working knowledge of each. It was time, he supposed, to teach the kids what he knew.
When Lan Jue arrived at the school he was taken aback. It looked like an entirely different place. The first thing he spotted from a fair instance away; three-meter tall banners had been plastered to the sides of the main gate. The figure on them was one he knew well.
As he closed in he spied two platforms that had been constructed by the gates. Poseidon’s Sounds of Nature Benefit Performance could clearly be seen written on banners nearby.
A benefit concert? Lan Jue snorted a laugh as the words came in to view. Mo Xiao certainly had an uncanny knack for advertising, he thought. It had started like any other performance, but had now become a show to benefit the victims of Taihua’s crisis. Now championing such a righteous cause, it certainly made the concert seem more special. Bumped up their profile quite a bit. It was certainly a wonderful thing for Gobi to open up their wallets, but the benefit for Gobi Entertainment was nothing to scoff at. It was supremely good publicity. It was no surprise the enterprise had been seeing growth by leaps and bounds since Mo Xiao took over.
With his mind on Mo Xiao, his thoughts went back to the strange expression Hua Li had on his face, that day when they had their heart to heart. Lan Jue honestly couldn’t fathom why Hua Li didn’t go for it with Mo Xiao. She was gorgeous, and talented. The only thing he could think of was Hua Li must be intimidated by her aggressiveness.
Though if he were being honest, Lan Jue figured he’d react much the same in a similar situation. Too strong a woman would make a man feel suppressed 2. Hua Li was a guy with a great deal of ability, and his personality reflected that.
Hera was still the best! Her gentle, beautiful face floated up in his memory. Visions of that white world flitted behind his eyes, and her moving voice echoed in his ears.
Things would have been so different had she lived. I’d be with her forever. We’d be right here at the base of the stage watching Hua Li perform. Then we’d eat a fine meal at the Gourmet’s before finishing with an exquisite bottle of wine at the Wine Master’s.
Poseidon’s Sounds of Nature was everywhere, and its influence on the school was even more apparent as he pushed his bicycle inside.
Scores of posters canvased the school’s interior. Platforms had been set up intermittently, housing advertisements and publicity broadcasts. There were even pamphlets specially printed for the occasion and souvenir kiosks. He couldn’t fathom how Gobi Entertainment got the university to acquiesce to all of this. They’d come in and absolutely taken over.
Lan Jue lifted his head and peered at the banners flapping in the breeze. Hua Li looked down at him, standing casually in a black suit. Those uncanny features were turned in to an easy, captivating smile that seemed full of sunshine. Even though it was just a banner, those large blue eyes seemed to glitter, making hearts flutter. Passers-by couldn’t help but stop and stare on their way to classes.
“This guy!” Lan Jue shook his head, unable to completely hide his criticism.
He tapped Hua Li’s number in to his communicator.
“A-Jue, what’s up?” Hua Li’s tired voice answered on the other end.
“Let’s have dinner tonight. The Gourmet’s invited us. Where’s A-Cheng?”